You’ve probably heard the term “passive aggressive” being used—often with the sentiment to not be a passive aggressive partner. But you might not really understand exactly what it means. In a nutshell, being passive aggressive means feeling angry or upset, but expressing it indirectly instead of actually coming out and saying how you really feel. It’s a very common behavior in relationships of any kind, but especially romantic relationships—and the short of it is that it’s not helpful and, in fact, can be rather damaging.

“More often than not, the the passive aggressive partner has unresolved issues in the relationship that has not been worked through based on either history of upbringing, for example not being encouraged to express feelings directly or feeling invalidated,” explains Lisa Bahar, licensed marriage and family therapist, professional clinical counselor and certified drug and alcohol counselor. “In a romantic relationship, one partner may shut down and resort to other means of expressing emotions. In more stressed relationships, this can be seen as emotional gaslighting, which is a form of gaining control over someone by acting out deep rage that has not been processed or worked through that the current relationship is triggering.” Over time, she warns that passive aggressiveness can create a sort of co-dependency and a cycle of emotional abuse that wears the relationship down irrevocably.

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